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Nutrition Series: What Are You Cooking With?
While many topics in nutrition these days seem to be confusing, none has been as hotly debated as the relationship between the amount and type of fat we eat, and its effect on our bodies. You’ve probably at some point heard your doctor say that a low-fat diet is important, because excess fat “clogs your arteries,” diminishing blood flow, raising blood pressure, and increasing the potential for a fatty deposit in your arteries to break off and get stuck in a vital organ like your heart (heart attack), or brain (stroke). On the flip side, you’ve probably also heard of people moving to a keto diet, in which a high fat, high protein diet, extremely low in carbs is used to make your body switch energy systems, and start to use fat to create energy, as opposed to glycogen from carbs. So how did we get to this point? And what does the latest research tell us about the role of fats in our diets? According to the lipid scientists (the people who actually study fat), fat itself is not the problem. It’s a certain type of fat, which happens to be contained in one of the most commonly used ingredients in our modern diet, vegetable oil.
In the 1950’s, the low-fat movement was started by a man named Ancel Keys. He stated that the reason people were getting heart attacks was because of an excess of fat in our diets clogging your arteries like a sink clogs a drain. This led to a huge movement away from things like butter and fatty meats, and a huge increase in the amount of processed oils used in food as a substitute (vegetable oil). The result? Heart disease has skyrocketed and is now the number one cause of death in both men and women. The problem goes well beyond heart disease too, as poor arterial health leads to poor blood flow which causes major problems in athletic performance, recovery, and healing.
The latest research by the lipid scientists has pointed more to the problem being polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oil. The explanation of how this causes harm is a lot more complicated than “fat clogs your arteries.” What happens when oil is squeezed from vegetables and heated up to turn into food, and then consumed, is that very high energy electrons called free radicals get released. These are electrons with the sole purpose of buzzing around the cells within your body, looking for a molecule to bind with, and damaging the structures it comes in contact with permanently in the process. Since most molecules in your body won’t have space for an extra electron, it will continue to move through your body, wreaking havoc on hormone receptors and cell membranes it comes in contact with until an antioxidant such as vitamin E or vitamin C agree to let it stay with them. This process is called a free radical cascade by chemists, and it’s the reason even a little bit of vegetable oil can create a lot of damage in your body. Keeping a steady diet of these fats will over-time fry your arteries and lead to all sorts of negative effects that come with poor blood flow mentioned earlier.
So how do you know what is good and what is bad? While a lipid scientist would tell you to eat saturated or monounsaturated fat and stay away from poly-unsaturated and trans fat, it will be much easier just to create a list of fats to consume vs. fats to avoid. So here it is:
Fats to Consume:
-Macadamia Nut Oil
-Animal fats (lard, tallow)
Fats to Avoid:
-Butter Substitute Spreads
It makes inherent sense that the natural fat humans have been eating for years is good for you. It also makes inherent sense that highly processed oils are toxic. Finally, we’re starting to see research to prove it. Try eliminating the processed vegetable-oils, and eating the natural fats in your diet for a few weeks, and see if you notice a difference in how you feel, how you perform, and how you recover.